#FrenchGP Le Mans, Friday roundup: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3

 In MotoGP, News

MotoGP

After Day 1 at Le Mans, it’s the home heroes on top! Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) topped the SHARK Grand Prix de France timesheets on Friday with some close company from compatriot Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), and the two Frenchmen were split by just 0.095. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) made it two Iwata marque machines in the top three, 0.389 back, with Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) denied the honour by just 0.001.

FP1 started wet but ended dry, ish, at least for Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team). The Aussie put in slicks and pulled out a whopping 1.481 seconds on the rest of the field by the flag, with Zarco leading the resistance in second ahead of reigning MotoGP™ World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar). Mir was the first to stop in the damp session, however, as he suffered a technical problem at Turn 8. Two more riders crashed towards the end, first Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and then Viñales, riders ok.

By FP2, a few hours of mostly dry skies and no real extra rain saw the track start out dry and remain so. With the forecast looking decidedly damp for Saturday morning, it was even more important to get a provisional place in Q2 on Friday and predictably, that created a flurry of afternoon action as everyone rushed to set a lap and then better it.

Home hero Quartararo was untouchable in the opening stages, however. Everyone was slamming in lap after lap on soft or medium rears but after 15 minutes, Quartararo’s 1:32.120 was 0.591s better than second place Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu). The notorious Turn 3 caught out Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and World Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) in the first 15 minutes too, both riders ok, before Espargaro – on his second bike – then slid into the gravel at Turn 3 again.

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), ninth in the early stages, then had an off-track excursion at Turn 8. It was clear the riders were pushing as Turn 3 then saw Quartararo slide into the gravel too, rider also ok, before Jack Miller – just after going P6 – tucked the front of his GP21 at Turn 7 as well.

With just over 10 minutes to go, Quartararo was still leading the way by over half a second from Nakagami, with Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins in P3. Viñales made a move though, the Spaniard up to P2 and cutting his teammate’s advantage to 0.428s. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) then shot into P3, before Pol Espargaro took over in second to slash Quartararo’s lead to just 0.017s. Miller wasn’t fazed by his crash and got back nearer the front into fourth, and as Turn 3 claimed its latest victim in Rins – rider ok – Marc Marquez improved to move from outside the top 10 into sixth. That shoved Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) outside the provisional Q2 places, soon to be confirmed alongside Joan Mir as the reigning Champion crashed at Turn 8 whilst in P12, his FP2 efforts over.

Meanwhile Quartararo rode on at the top, bouncing back quickly to set the first 1:31 of the weekend and lay down the gauntlet. Would he be beaten? Zarco soon made it a French 1-2 as he homed in and cut the gap, before the number 5 then pounced past Quartararo by just 0.095s to take over at the top and seal the deal.

That makes it a dream start to the weekend for French fans as Zarco leads Quartararo, with Viñales bagging a healthy P3 on Day 1. Pol Espargaro had a great afternoon at the office to pick up fourth and only a thousandth off the top three, with Franco Morbidelli completing the top five as the Petronas Yamaha SRT man continues to pull it out the bag.

Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was the quickest KTM on Day 1, the Portuguese rider impressing once again to take sixth after a solid day’s work. Miller salvaged an important P7 after his tumble, just ahead of Marc Marquez in eighth.

Ninth position, meanwhile, sees the return of nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) to the Friday top ten. Just 0.037 off Marquez, the Doctor currently stands to move through and will be joined by the man in tenth: Nakagami.

So who’s missing? More key names than can make it through should FP3 turn wet. Championship leader Bagnaia is down in P12, just behind Rins and just ahead of Mir. There are only two more places available in Q2, so there will likely be a few prayers from that trio hoping it doesn’t rain on Saturday morning.

Moto2

Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) is once again the man to beat on the Moto2™ timesheets, but once again it wasn’t by much. On Day 1 of the SHARK Grand Prix de France the Brit led the way by just 0.075 ahead of rookie sensation Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo), with Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) completing the top three after winning a tight squabble for third.

MotoGP™ almost managed it in FP1, but Moto2™ were very much back on slicks by the conclusion of their first session of the weekend and the laptimes picked up some speed. Aron Canet (Inde Aspar Team) was top of the pile from Stefano Manzi (Flexbox HP 40), with Lowes fast in third but just 0.035 in further arrears.

Bezzecchi crashed, rider ok, but Yari Montella’s (MB Conveyors Speed Up) weekend came to an early end as the Italian broke his right wrist in his tumble. Alonso Lopez has been drafted in on replacement duty, the Spaniard fresh from three Moto2™ European Championship podiums to start his rookie season on the Boscocuro chassis. How will the Moto3™ podium finisher adapt to Moto2™ competition with Triumph?

Meanwhile, later in the day and despite the threatening cloud cover, FP2 stayed dry and Lowes took to the top, only a tenth and a half off outright the lap record. Raul Fernandez was less than a tenth off and Augusto Fernandez got promoted to third as Bezzecchi had his best effort scrubbed off, with Championship leader Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) within half a tenth of the top three.

Fifth went to Nicolo Bulega (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) as the Italian put some more Friday speed on show, with Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) pipping Canet to sixth. Jerez winner Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) took P8 despite a tumble, and the Italian was one of 11 crashers including the likes of Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) and Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing), who both suffered rough days at the office down in P28 and P25 respectively. All riders were ok in FP2, although Hector Garzo (Flexbox HP 40) must also be reviewed before FP3.

After getting his best scrubbed for Yellow Flags, Bezzecchi’s next lap puts him in ninth, ahead of Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) completing the top ten. Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP), Manzi, Jorge Navarro (MB Conveyors Speed Up) and Garzo currently stand to move through to Q2 if no one can improve on Saturday… and rain is a distinct possibility!

Moto3

Gabriel Rodrigo (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3) leads the way after Day 1 of the SHARK Grand Prix de France, with the Argentinean once again pulling it out of the bag on Friday. This time around it’s Darryn Binder (Petronas Sprinta Racing) closest on the chase, ahead of key rival Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo) as the Spaniard completes the top three. Masia’s teammate, Championship leader and rookie Pedro Acosta, finds himself outside of the provisional Q2 graduation zone after a day of mixed conditions in France, and Saturday morning looks like it could well be wet…

That’s how Friday began and a damp but drying FP1 saw John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) take to the top late on, with Acosta in second but half a second back. Nevertheless, that was an impressive feat in his first ever session at Le Mans as he suffered two small crashes in the wetter conditions before recovering to take second. Third went to Gaviota Aspar GAS GAS rider Sergio Garcia.

Crashes were undoubtedly the headline-stealers in the morning. 18 incidents – only one of which was a technical issue, that for Niccolo Antonelli (Avintia Esponsorama Moto3) – saw the French GP off to a tougher start for many as Friday dawned wet. And it remained wet for the lightweight class, although conditions were drying and markedly improved by the end of FP1.

With no more real rain coming, FP2 stayed fully dry and could end up even more vital than normal as the forecast says they’ll be more rain on Saturday morning. That means Q2 could already be decided, and Acosta is one who doesn’t currently stand to go through. Rodrigo, Binder and Masia let their experience shine to end the day as the fastest trio overall, ahead of Antonelli bouncing back from his technical trouble to take fourth. Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech3) moved showed more good speed in fifth, just ahead of veteran Italians Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) and Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team).

Ryusei Yamanaka (CarXpert PrüstelGP), Stefano Nepa (BOE Owlride) and Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech3) completed the top ten on Friday, of which half crashed: Binder, Öncü, Migno, Fenati and the aforementioned number 6 of Yamanaka. The final four heading through as it stands are Jason Dupasquier (CarXpert PrüstelGP), McPhee, Riccardo Rossi (BOE Owlride) and Garcia, with Acosta left down in P18 on Friday. But then, he has already won from pitlane… so can much be read into that? And in the eventuality, could the extra wet track time of Q1 actually help the likes of Acosta and his fellow rookies?

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